Thursday, April 19, 2007

NBA Playoff Preview -- Detroit Pistons v. Orlando Magic

Welcome back Grant Hill and Darko, the Orlando Magic are coming to town. After last night's final NBA games of the regular season (and was it just me or did it seem seem like an extra long regular season?) the 2007 first round playoff matchups are set and the Detroit Pistons will battle an old foe, the Orlando Magic, in the first round.

While on its face the matchup looks favorable for the Pistons, and nobody expects Detroit to have much trouble with Orlando, the Pistons would be wise not to forget the lessons of 2004. The Pistons were the top seed in the Eastern Conference that season too, and they drew a young Orlando Magic team in the first round. Everyone thought it was going to be a cakewalk, and it almost was -- for the Magic. They jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, putting the Pistons on the brink of elimination, before the Pistons woke up, dusted themselves off, and won three straight, disposing the Magic in 7 games. While a full series will likely not be needed this year, if the Pistons take the Magic for granted, or look past them, we may see a repeat of 2003. Or, at the very least, Orlando is going to steal a game or two.

While the Pistons do have an edge over the Magic in practically every category, the Magic do have a lot of talent. Dwight Howard is quickly becoming one of the league's best young big men. He averaged 17.6 points and just over 12 rebounds a game, and is hungry to prove himself in the playoffs. And of course there's always the veteran leadership of a healthy Grant Hill, who, by the way, would look great closing out his career in a Pistons uniform if he chooses to leave Orlando as a free agent this off season. And of course there's Darko, who still has not lived up the hype, but at least showed signs of progress this season. And you know he wants to stick it to the Pistons if he could. But, he likely won't be a factor, and may not play due to an ankle injury.

As for the Pistons, their only real worry is themselves. Being too arrogant, cocky, and the risk of looking right past the Magic and into the next round and beyond. Chris Webber's addition has been a boost and knowing that his time to win a ring is running down, he'll be extra motivated now that he's this close to winning one. The Pistons sleptwalked their way through a number of regular season games, and that won't work in the playoffs, even against a team like Orlando. As my great Uncle Sam e-mailed me last week, The Pistons "can't wait until the last period of every game to turn it on, because teams like Chicago, Cleveland and especially Miami won't fold."

I think the Pistons will be hungry though, after not making it to the finals last season and losing to San Antonio in 2005. I think they realize that while getting to the NBA Finals won't be easy, with Miami struggling for most of the year, and LeBron not quite ready yet, this may be their best opportunity to make it back to the Finals. Pistons in 5 over the Magic.

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